Torture Claims Revived Against SCOTUS Precedent

     RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Inmates of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq persuaded the 4th Circuit to revive their torture claims against defense contractor CACI International.
     The decision restores hope for detainees of the infamous Iraqi prison who have been suing CACI International and other contractors in droves since 2008 under the Alien Tort Statute, a more-than-200-year-old law that allows American courts to hear foreign citizens’ claims against Americans violating international laws and treaties abroad.
     Led by Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari, the detainees say they were subjected to electric shocks, sexual violence, forced nudity, broken bones, and deprivation of oxygen, food and water, by CACI under its defense contract to provide the Pentagon with linguistic services.
     A federal judge dismissed the case last year , however, on the heels of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co. , a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively gut the ability of foreigners to hold U.S. corporations liable for conduct overseas.
     A three-judge panel with the 4th Circuit revived the Abu Ghraib detainees’ case Monday, however, after finding that “Kiobel does not foreclose the plaintiffs’ claims under the Alien Tort Statute, and that the District Court erred in reaching a contrary conclusion.”
     “Upon applying the fact-based inquiry articulated by the Supreme Court in Kiobel, we hold that the plaintiffs’ claims ‘touch and concern’ the territory of the United States with sufficient force to displace the resumption against extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute,” Judge Barbara Keenan wrote for a three-member panel.
     The 48-page opinion notes that “the presumption against extraterritorial application bars the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiffs’ ATS claims unless the ‘relevant conduct’ alleged in the claims ‘touch[es] and concern[s] the territory of the United States with sufficient force to displace the presumption.'”
     Whereas in Kiobel the foreign corporations’ sole ties to the United States were a New York public relations office and listings on the New York Stock Exchange, the Abu Ghraib detainees have alleged “acts of torture committed by United States citizens who were employed by an American corporation, CACI, which has corporate headquarters located in Fairfax County, Virginia,” the court found.
     “The alleged torture occurred at a military facility operated by United States government personnel,” Keenan added.
     “In addition, the employees who allegedly participated in the acts of torture were hired by CACI in the United States to fulfill the terms of a contract that CACI executed with the United States Department of the Interior,” she continued. “The contract between CACI and the Department of the Interior was issued by a government office in Arizona, and CACI was authorized to collect payments by mailing invoices to government accounting offices in Colorado. Under the terms of the contract, CACI interrogator were required to obtain security clearances from the United States Department of Defense.
     “Finally, the allegations are not confined to the assertion that CACI’s employees participated directly in acts of torture committed at the Abu Ghraib prison. The plaintiffs also allege that CACI’s managers located in the United States were aware of reports of misconduct abroad, attempted to “cover up” the misconduct, and ‘implicitly, if not expressly, encouraged’ it.”
     Rejecting claims that the litigation would interfere in foreign policy,” Keenan noted that “the political branches already have indicated that the United States will not tolerate acts of torture, whether committed by United States citizens or by foreign nationals.”

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